By Hannah Pitzl
During her 27 years of experience as a library director, you can bet that Pamela Westby has seen her fair share of change among libraries over the years.
Westby joined the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in March 2016. Her job entails managing the budget, people, collections and the facility.
“If you lead with the intention of helping other people advance their career and their goals, the organization and everyone really wins,” Westby said.
Westby works to rebrand the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library by closely following the library’s strategic plan and utilizing technology, the “Book Bike” and other advancing projects within the library. The library also uses its Facebook page as a way to connect with the community.
Before becoming a library director, Westby earned her undergraduate degree in management and organizational leadership from the University of North Texas, Denton. She recommends earning a master’s degree from an American Library Association accredited school as well. Westby transferred to the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library from Middleton, Wisconsin because it tends to look beyond the status quo, and she enjoys the challenge of the library’s new strategic plan, Westby said.
The library’s five-year strategic plan includes developing and supporting the staff in growing and grooming their skills to better serve the public, customer service experience and rebranding the library from being a “collection center” to a “people center,” she said.
The library’s mission is to promote life-long learning, create collaborative spaces and support open access to diverse materials and resources to enhance the quality of life in the community, Westby said. She walks into work every day ready to keep the library’s mission statement on track and keep the staff working toward their goals, she said.
Her smile widened as she spoke of a previous assistant she worked used to work with. Westby gave her assistant the opportunity to experience other libraries through the Library Journal Magazine. After the enlightening trip, she told Westby how grateful she was to witness some of the future trends libraries are embracing, Westby said.
Just one example of the library’s change with the advancement in technology is the library’s introduction of wireless hotspots. Westby not only took the opportunity to encourage the decision to help people without internet access, but also encouraged the purchase of enough hot spots to witness the popularity of them, she said.
In addition to the hot spots, the “Book Bike” plan hit the ground running after Westby became the library director, Programming and Communication Services Manager Isa Small said. Small described the “Book Bike” as essentially a library on wheels that brings L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library out into the Eau Claire community.
Small works alongside Westby on the management team of nine with the interest of the library’s strategic plan in mind. Small encounters the library’s changes first-hand.
“We have a cheerleader keeping us moving forward and going hard on projects,” Small said. “A large percentage of the projects that we just identified as part of our strategic plan are actually underway now, so things are definitely moving quickly.”
Currently, the library’s management team works to get books on Eau Claire’s city busses. The team already received approval from the city, and volunteers and staff have been assigned. Now, Westby explained, the team searches for the funds to place the book racks on the busses.
The “Books On Busses” project allows all ages free access to books while traveling. Even if the library’s books aren’t returned, the goal is for books to be circulated throughout the community, Westby said. Hopefully, the integration of books on public transportation will help those who can’t afford their reading hobbies, she said.
“We know this [reading] is probably not at the top of their list if they’re living pay check to paycheck,” she said. “You’re going to buy food and housing first, but we also know that literacy skills can help you advance your income and get you out of poverty.”
Westby tends to let her staff “take the ball and run with it,” Small said. Westby’s enthusiasm resonates through the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library’s staff, Small said.
“It’s great to see these immediate things happen,” Small said. “The work that you put into it [a project] is immediately having an effect on the library and our customers.”
Just like people, every community and its library have different personalities, and finding how each library fits into the community is the key, Westby said. She believes that Eau Claire does an exemplary job of including the library in the many things happening in the community, and the “Books On Busses” project is just one example.
“It just feels like there’s this positive energy that’s soon just ready to explode and proliferate, and knowing that really gives us a lot of optimism about where we can go with the library,” Westby said.
Westby is willing to help out wherever she is needed and is always ready to answer questions, Small said. Her natural curiosity pushes the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library’s evolution forward, but the library’s goal has always been the same— answering questions people may have before they even ask them.